Here’s what you should know about the newly ‘amended’ Police Act

Nigeria Police

The cry from Nigerians to reform the Nigeria Police Force has always been met with either a lack of interest from the appropriate authorities or a total ignorance to their pleas. However, the president, in a memo dated September 16, 2020, signed into law the Nigeria Police Bill, 2020, which seeks to revoke the Police Act Cap. P19. Laws of the Federation, 2004. The bill itself, before garnering mainstream attention, was created to provide a more effective and well organised Police Force, driven by the principles of transparency and accountability in its operations and management of its resources.

This bill came about after too many reports and years of police officers assaulting and trampling over the rights of many Nigerians. The cases from 2019 till date alone saw the police – especially members of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) – extort, harass, and murder Nigerians on personal speculations that they may be criminals.

The idea that the police can stop anyone at random and search them or even accuse them as criminals have been part of the core reasons why Nigerians called for reform. In light of the new bill, it appears that the rights of the police to randomly stop and search people have become licensed by the government in Section 38 Subsection 1d.

On social media, that part of the bill has gotten a many Nigerians talking as many have shared that the government have no regards for their rights. However, the bill, in section one, states that it will comply with the principles of accountability, transparency and the need to protect human rights and freedom.

On Twitter, many have described that part of the bill as obnoxious and preposterous.

Here’s what you need to know about the new police bill:

It restates the duties of the police: The bill rehashes the duties of the Police as defined to prevent and detect crimes, protect the rights and freedom of suspects and non-suspects in accordance with the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and any other law. See Sec. 4 (a).

Gives room for private detectives: Civilians can now hire private detectives who are not employed by the government to carry out investigations on crimes. The Nigeria Police Force only stands as a medium to vet and approve the registration and operations of Private Detective Schools and Private Investigative Outfits. See Sec. 4 (i).

Mandates of the police: The Police is mandated to report the findings of its investigation to the Attorney General of the Federation or State as the case may be. See Sec. 32(1). The Act also prohibits the Police from arresting anyone based on a civil wrong or breach of contract. See Sec. 32(2). It also prohibits the arrest of any person in place of a suspect. See Sec. 36. The Act also makes it mandatory on the police officer or any other person authorized to effect an arrest to inform the suspect his rights to:

i. Remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice. See Sec. 35(2)(a).
ii. Consult a legal practitioner of his own choice before making, endorsing or writing any statement or answering any question put to him after the arrest. See Sec. 35(2)(b)
iii. Free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or other organizations where applicable. See Sec. 35(2)(c).

Furthermore, The Act also it mandatory on the Police to notify the next of kin or relative(s) of the suspect immediately after the arrest of the suspect. See Sec. 35(3). The Police are also mandated to take the photographs and fingerprint impressions of all suspects who are in lawful custody. See sec. 68(1).

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Acknowledge Human Rights: The new police act also charges the police to accorded humane treatment to all suspects – And a suspect shall not be subjected to torture, cruelty, inhumane or degrading treatment. See Sec. 37. The statement should only be taken on suspects wish to take them. See sec. 60(1). The statement, where the suspect wishes to make one, MAY be taken in the presence of a legal practitioner or any other person or organization of his own choice. See sec. 60(2). Where a suspect is arrested and detained for more than 24 hours, if the offence he was arrested for is not a capital offence, his lawyer or relatives can notify any court that has jurisdiction to try the matter about his arrest. See sec. 64(1).

Where a suspect declines to allow the Police to take his measurements, photograph and fingerprint impressions, the Police have the authority to apply to a court compelling the suspect to submit himself. See sec. 68(2).

Rights to prosecute: On the last working day of every month, officers in charge of a police station must report to the nearest magistrates the cases of all arrests made without a warrant in their jurisdiction. Whether the suspect has been admitted to bail or not. See sec. 69(1). By section 66 (1) of the Police Act 2020, only a Police Officer who is a legal practitioner can prosecute.

Section 23 which previously gave non-Police lawyers prosecutorial powers no longer hold any potency in law, the entire old Police Act, cap P.19, LFN,2004, having been repealed by the Police Act, 2020 recently assented to by Mr President. In effect, any prosecution by a non-Police lawyer is null and void, and of no effect whatsoever – by virtue of section 66(1) of the Act(supra). Thus, it’s a legal ground for objection to any prosecution being conducted by a Police Officer who is not a legal practitioner.

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